UK – from www.thisisleicestershire.co.uk -Once upon a time there was a shy, quiet schoolgirl called Paula.
She lived in a nice house, with a nice family, in a nice part of Wigston.
Few people knew or noticed Paula at school – Abington High School and then Guthlaxton College – because she was so timid.
And then Paula started to dance. She was good at dancing and was invited to become a cheerleader with the Foxy Ladies, spending Saturday afternoons shaking her pom-poms at 20,000 largely disinterested Leicester City fans at half time at Filbert Street.
“I loved it,” she says. “It gave me a new kind of confidence.” And from there, Paula changed.
Today, few people would call Paula shy. In fact few people call her Paula anymore. Today, Paula is McKenzie Lee – one of the biggest porn stars in America.
How she got there – from Guthlaxton College, via a one-bed-flat in Anstey Heights, to a strip club in Birmingham and now pneumatic porn star in LA – is an X-rated fairy tale.
On the phone from Los Angeles, McKenzie Lee, now 30, is looking after her two young daughters for the day. She’s just signed a lucrative new contract with production firm Digital Playground which enables her to work less but get paid more.
Her husband Chris, a patient chap by all accounts, is at work. He’s a policeman for the LAPD. More on him, though, later.
Outside, winter has arrived in LA, but the thermometer has dipped only slightly to 80 degrees. It’s another beautiful day in Calabasas, California.
In Leicester, I tell her, it’s cold and wet and dark and miserable. McKenzie sounds almost mournful.
“Oh I miss the English winter,” she says. “I miss the change in the seasons. It’s funny the things you miss about home when you’ve been away for a few years.”
She says all this in a voice which sounds more like Su-Ellen than Sue Townsend, more west coast than Wigston. She bristles at the suggestion. She wears her ex-pat Leicester roots like a badge on her sleeve.
“I think I still have my Leicester accent,” she says. “When I go out to restaurants and order food, waitresses look at me and go ‘huh?’ Even my husband can’t understand me sometimes. I don’t want to lose my English accent.”
When she was Paula, she didn’t have a boyfriend at school. “I was a late starter. But you could say I made up for it from then,” she laughs.
She worked as a barmaid at the Rhythm Rooms in the city, six nights a week for a very modest salary, going back to her flat in Anstey Heights every night and wondering if there was more to life than this.
It turned out there was. A friend was working as a DJ at a Birmingham strip club. “You could do that,” he said to Paula and Paula laughed in his face.
A few weeks later, she was in that Birmingham club auditioning to be a lap dancer. It was, and remains, the scariest moment of her life.
“Of all the things I’ve done, I’ve never been as nervous as I was then,” she says. “But I soon got into it. And I loved the attention – and the money.”
It was £5 for a lap dance at the Birmingham strip club. “If I wanted to earn £300 that night, I knew that was 60 dances,” she says. Some nights, she could barely drive home her feet were so sore from dancing.
She went from Birmingham to London, stripping at Spearmint Rhino and picking up a new boyfriend who hired out their London home as a location for porn films.
“I saw so much porn being filmed there it didn’t seem like such a big jump to go from watching it to being in it.”
“No, not really. Put it this way – it was nowhere near as nerve-wracking as auditioning for the strip club.”
She was now a porn star; getting paid £350 per film and worrying about how she was going to tell her folks.
She need not have worried. Both were fine. “My mum just wanted me to be happy,” she says. Her dad just shrugged. Then he started coming home with requests for signed pictures from his friends. “That was a bit weird,” she says.
If she wanted to make it – and make big money too – she had to go to the States. She won best new starlet at the porn version of the Oscars in her first year.
“I know I’m good at what I do,” she says. “I love my job. I’m not ashamed to say that. And I’m not ashamed to say I like the money either.
“I do like the sex but it’s not the sex I get off on – it’s the exhibitionism, people watching me.” That’s something she can trace back to Saturday afternoons at Filbert Street in the mid-1990s.
“And I’m English. I’m proud to be English. When I won best new starlet in 2006, I went to the ceremony in a hand-made Union Jack dress.”
She has two children now, two little girls under three who have changed everything. Now, she says, it’s all about them.
“It’s funny how you think you’re never going to change and everything is set and then kids come along and everything changes,” she laughs.
McKenzie Lee took a three-year career break to have her children, get married and concentrate on her family.
“I wasn’t sure if I was going to come back,” she says. But they still wanted her, she says, and the money was still good.
For as long as she enjoys it and as long as they want her, she’ll carry on.
“Obviously, there’s a shelflife. I know that. Will I still be doing this when I’m 40? I doubt it. You need an exit strategy. I’ve just started my own talent agency, so that’s something. But I’ll miss it, I know I will.”
Will her husband though? So far, we’ve hardly mentioned Chris, her police officer partner. What does he think?
“He doesn’t mind,” she shrugs.
Really? So you kiss him goodbye in the morning and he knows you’re going to work to have sex with another man – and he’s ok with that?
“Yeah, he’s fine with it. He doesn’t care about what I do. In fact, he gets off on it. We have a very understanding relationship. Having sex with one person for the rest of your life… that would be so boring…”
So is he allowed to have sex with someone else?
He is. Yet he doesn’t. “It’s weird isn’t it?” she says. “We don’t examine it too much. It seems to work for us and that’s it.”
It’s nearly four years since McKenzie returned home to Leicester. She’s heard her home town has changed. She’s read about it on the Mercury website.
All being well, she says, she’s coming home for Christmas. Her family have yet to meet her daughters and she’s eager to revisit her haunts, see old friends.
“I miss England, I miss Leicester. I want to see how it’s changed.
“I want to eat fish and chips and have beans on toast for tea and watch English TV. All those things that I miss that you take for granted. I really miss home.
“I feel excited about this going in the Mercury. We always had the Mercury. I told my mum you were going to interview me and she was so excited.”